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Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 13

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Well, after sheltering from the bad weather in Strangford Lough it was time to move onwards. I had considered setting out at the end of the day and doing a night sail to Dublin, but at the last minute I chickened out of it and stayed put for the night. It was probably the right decision considering the conditions I encountered the next day, which turned out to be a very long one.

Crossing the bar.

I was a bit apprehensive about crossing the bar leaving the Lough, as with the speed of the ebb flow there can be some pretty epic overfalls, especially in contrary winds and ebb runs against the main tidal flow in the Irish Sea for the first few hours. So I timed it carefully to cross the bar at exactly low water. As I was approaching I could look ahead through the binoculars at what I thought were a bunch of fishing boats, but actually turned out to be standing waves sticking up above the horizon. I think they diminished a bit as I approached, and when I crossed, there was some fairly big rolling swell but it was no cause for concern. The wind was plenty strong and under full sail I was going quickly. There wasn’t much time to get out before the tide turned and started flooding back in.

Difficult conditions.

As soon as I was out in open water however, the wind faded and things got very difficult. I was faced with the remnants of the previous strong winds in terms of short, steep seas and combined with the current light winds, progress was painful. Every time I built some speed I’d just slam into the oncoming sea like a brick wall, stopping me dead. It was like trying to run up a sand dune. After 5 hours I had only made 11 miles, with more than 50 to do to get to Dublin. It also didn’t help that the wind was constantly shifting around, swinging back and forth through 180 degrees, and every 20 minutes or so I had to put a reef in due to the frequent squalls. Then the wind would die completely and i’d shake it back out. This went on for some time, and it was probably the most unsatisfying sailing experience I’ve had so far.

Luckily the squalls started to ease up.

By the early evening the wind had become more consistent in strength and direction and I started making steady progress southwards. I had to decide where to stop for the night, as I was nowhere near where I had planned to be. Seeing as I had considered doing a night sail the night before, and was a little disappointed I hadn’t, I took the opportunity to just keep going and do the night sail tonight. The big difference of course was that I wasn’t just starting; I had already been sailing since 9 am. But conditions had improved, the sea was getting flatter, the wind was going to keep blowing
until the morning and there was going to be a near-full moon.

Sad to see the sun go.

The frustrations of the day were soon forgotten as I got the auto-helm working, the sails were trimmed just right and the tide had turned back round in my favour. I made good progress directly south at about 6 knots. I didn’t feel tired at all, I think due to the heightened alertness of being my first night sail and I was having fun. The horizon had seemed empty in daylight but now in the darkness I could see all the navigation lights of various shipping much further out. I had a bit of a scary moment when a fishing trawler headed inshore came straight at me. It had been against the backdrop of lights on the horizon and it took a while to single it out and determine how far away it was and what direction it was travelling, and before I knew what was happening I could see the white water of the bow wave and the dark holes of the bridge windows. In some alarm, I turned on all the lights I had and fired up the engine to get out of the way. It was a pretty close call and I spent the next while pondering what I needed to do to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Night sailing.

The water was fairly shallow where I was and I was also a bit concerned about lobster pots. I had seen a few go by fairly close in the fading light, but now it was pitch black and I would have a hard time spotting them. I was happy when I saw the red glow on the moon rising behind the clouds, providing some light, but it soon disappeared behind the clouds and the sky was effectively moonless. I reasoned with myself that as I wasn’t using the engine, I’d have less chance of fouling any lines around the prop. It was pretty cold and I spent a bit of time inside the cabin, which I hadn’t really done much of so far while on the move. The auto-helm was performing well, and I would peer out every now and then to scan the horizon. I made what was probably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, partly because of the atmosphere and partly because I put in about 4 times too much powder cause I couldn’t see in the dark. I found I could stand in the companionway with only my head sticking out so I could see ahead. It was while doing this that I suddenly saw the dark shadow of a lobster float appear out of the gloom dead ahead. I didn’t have time to get to the tiller, disengage the auto-helm and steer around it so I just had to watch as it disappeared beneath the bow, bumping along the hull. I waited for the sudden jolt but instead felt relief as I watched it pass astern. After a few hours I could see the lit navigation markers ahead signifying the end was near (also I could see it on the chart plotter…). I had decided to anchor at Lambay Island and go in to Dublin in daylight. Approaching the island, I could see the high cliffs looming dark ahead, and relied heavily on the chart plotter to get me in the right spot for anchoring. With the hook dropped at 3.39 am, I wasted no time getting to bed. I was pretty beat, having been on the move for 18 hours. I only slept for about 4 hours as I wanted to catch the early morning wind and tide to get into Dublin.

Gannet colony on Lambay Island.

In the daylight, Lambay Island looked like quite a nice place, but I was underway as soon as I woke up. Anticipating an early arrival into Dublin, I was disappointed that I didn’t get there until 5 pm. The winds were not favourable and it just took forever getting there.

Dublin ahead.

I had to call up the port traffic control who directed me in after some very large ferries and it was a very miserable rainy day. I didn’t waste any time getting showered and then having a Guinness in the marina bar. I was running low on food and there were no shops nearby so I ordered a Dominos delivery (2 for 1) and feasted before passing out for the night.

An industrial welcome.

I didn’t have a particularly peaceful night as the port is very busy and the propeller noises of all the big ships really transmits through the hull. I’d hate to be a whale around here. I was awoken by an especially noisy ship and wasn’t too happy to see the towering bow of a massive cruise liner
bearing down on me.

Not how you want to wake up.

However it was just turning around in the channel with the assistance of some tug boats, but I couldn’t help but think of some videos I’d seen online of such manoeuvres going badly wrong. I wished the visitors pontoon wasn’t the one on the outside. Anyway, with some pizza for breakfast, it was off into the city for a look about. I did the usual things, visit the art gallery, walk about Trinity College, mostly just sat in a few pubs and enjoyed the Guinness, which really is noticeably better here. I don’t know it the weather affected my experience adversely, but I found the place to be a bit grim, although the pubs were brilliant. I did appreciate the contrast of the heavy industry with all the pretty little places I’d been to lately.

Close quarters in Dublin Port.

I could have stayed another night for free but I wanted to press on. Setting off into a force 6, I got blown across Dublin Bay at top speed with 2 reefs in. It wasn’t long before the wind died down and my visions of an epic coastal passage diminished.

Trying to get as much sail shape as possible in light winds.

I had to put the engine on and in the end only got as far as Wicklow, where I arrived in the dark and dropped the anchor for a short night rolling about. I wanted get going at 4 am to catch the tide but slept in late and only caught the second half of the tide. It was a pretty brutal morning with wind and rain and big seas and I had to motorsail upwind all the way. I only made 12 miles before pulling into Arklow as the tide turned against me.

Picturesque entrance to Arklow.

This stretch of coastline doesn’t afford much shelter for the frugal sailor who prefers to anchor but I took full advantage of Fairhaven’s shallow draft by tucking in behind the breakwater. No sooner had I made the anchor fast than I heard over the radio an updated forecast for strong south easterlies, which would blow right into the tiny sliver of shelter I had squeezed into. And by the time the tide turned in my favour for southwards travel, this would have blown through and I’d then be facing a calm. Perhaps due to my lack of sleep, I said “sod this” and motored into Arklow to splash out on a pontoon berth. In the end, this was a good decision as nearby to the pontoon there is both a maritime museum and an Aldi. What more could I possibly want?

Probably the best model ship I’ve ever seen made in brass and ivory.

I went off the to pub again, and mostly just enjoyed not being cooked up on the boat. At one point a yacht got caught up on one of the submerged mooring lines in the middle of the river and after a while, I was about to offer to get the wetsuit on and jump in when a local launch pulled up to help them. I’m glad I didn’t as I later found out this river is heavily polluted with raw sewage….

Resupplied.

The following day I could either catch the tide at 3am or 3.30pm so no surprises which I chose. After stocking up in Aldi (what supermarket doesn’t have UHT milk!?) and having a lazy day, I made ready to catch the tide south. There was a high pressure sitting over the country and the sun was blazing, also there was bugger all wind. I had hoped to catch a sea-breeze, but there was very little of that to be found so I motored south for 6 hours. The initial plan was to anchor off Rosslare for the night and then make the hop across Saint George’s Channel to Milford Haven the following day, but between the swell and the light winds forecast the next day, I changed my mind and headed for Wexford instead. I hadn’t planned on coming here, partly due to the entrance being covered with extensive shifting sandbanks. I had to do my planning on the fly and thanks to the internet I was able to download a digital map from the Wexford Harbour website that had the channel marker buoys detailed for navigation.

Thanks to Wexford Harbour!

As I approached the entrance the light was fading fast and going through here in darkness is not recommended for first timers, but I thought what-the-hell, I’ve made it this far. The digital map has information on the light sequences of the buoys but it was less than ideal figuring this out on the move. Thankfully there was just enough twilight in the western sky to provide a bit of silhouette to the buoys closest to me, but if I had been going the opposite way it would have been pitch black and much harder.

Entering the channel to Wexford Harbour.

I got alarmingly close to the exposed sandbanks at points, and the cries of the basking seals in the dark was eerie. There was quite a bit of cross tide at times and the navigation kept me on my toes. Eventually I made it all the way to the town without mishap. Coming in on the flood I had quite a bit of speed turning into the quayside. I had considered anchoring but the tide is strong here and didn’t want to get up at the turn to check the anchor. Also, mooring to the quayside is free so it’s a nobrainer really.

Alongside in Wexford.

Now that I’m here, I’ll just have to wait until the conditions are right for crossing to Wales. The forecast is for rather light, variable winds so I may have to just go over on the engine, which is never much fun.

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